01 December 2005

Anger over rogue police clause in fugitive law


01/12/2005 - 17:33:50

British Prime Minister Tony Blair tonight faced demands from Sinn Féin to remove clauses from a controversial Bill which would allow police and British army involved in murders during Northern Ireland’s Troubles to avoid jail.

Newry and Armagh MP Conor Murphy issued the call after the rival nationalist SDLP claimed Sinn Féin signed up to a deal with the British government which would not just affect republican on-the-run (OTR) terror suspects but also rogue members of the security forces.

Mr Murphy, who denied his rivals’ claims, said: “The issue of OTRs was raised by Sinn Féin and negotiated at Weston Park in 2001, a process involving the SDLP.

“There are no British OTRs. The issue of British state violence and those involved in it had no part of these discussions.

“The British government have unilaterally taken a decision to attach the provisions for Crown forces on to this Bill, a fact acknowledged by all parties including the two governments. We are absolutely opposed to this approach.

“The British government should have legislated for the agreement reached at Weston Park, an agreement which covered the small number of republicans displaced as a result of the political conflict.

“Sinn Féin is, therefore, opposed to the legislation in its current form.

“The British government should withdraw the offending clause. That is what Sinn Féin is seeking to achieve.”

Under the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill, individuals suspected of unsolved crimes during the Troubles, can avoid going to jail by applying to a certification commissioner.

If the police suspect them of an offence before the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998, the commissioner will issue them with a certificate outlining the crimes they are suspected of and guaranteeing they will not be arrested.

The certificate will set in train a legal process which will see their offences examined by a specially set-up tribunal with its own prosecutors and judges.

On-the-run paramilitaries, rogue members of the police and army and other people suspected of crimes before 1998 would not have to attend the hearings.

If they are found guilty, they will be issued with a licence similar to the one given to the republican and loyalist prisoners who were freed early from jail under the Good Friday Agreement.

If they offend again, their licences will be revoked and they will be sent to prison.

Critics of the Bill have hit out at its failure to compel terror suspects to attend the tribunal hearings and face their victims.

The legislation has been condemned by victims of IRA violence and also those who lost relatives to collusion between members of the security forces and loyalists.

It has also been opposed by the cross community Alliance Party, unionists, the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and human rights groups such as British Irish Rights Watch.

During the launch of a document entitled 12 Things They Don’t want You To Know About the Northern Ireland Offences Bill, SDLP policing spokesperson Alex Attwood claimed Sinn Féin signed up to a deal in April 2003 which stated a qualifying offence would be any scheduled offence before April 10, 1998.

“Scheduled offences are offences like murder, bomb making, possession of weapons and are always tried in Diplock Courts,” the West Belfast MLA said.

“State killings in Northern Ireland are scheduled offences. That’s why people like Guardsmen Fisher and Wright and Lee Clegg were tried in Diplock Courts.

“So when Sinn Féin signed up to anybody who committed any scheduled offence before 1998 being able to skip jail, they accepted state killers getting away with it – now and in the future. They accepted this in black and white in the Hillsborough side deal.”

Mr Attwood also claimed while the IRA had to decommission and commit itself to end all activity before the Government would commit itself to legislation, Sinn Féin had secured a Bill which made no such requirements on loyalists.

“Loyalists will be able to benefit even if they do not decommission a single bullet, even if they do not end their drug dealing, intimidation, punishment shootings and crime,” he said.

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